By David M. Luftig
University of Dayton Research Services Librarian
This study seeks to understand the content, organization, and context of the University of Illinois Experimental Music Studios’ (EMS) archive. For this project, I spent seventeen weeks documenting the original EMS archive with a particular focus on the magnetic tape collection. The original EMS archive was housed within the School of Music before being moved into the University of Illinois Archives. The EMS was founded in 1958, and its audio collection started soon after. Although once a heavily utilized collection, these tapes sat unused for many years upon me encountering them.
The purpose of this project was to document what a historic institutional tape music archive physically looked like, what sort of materials were located within in it, and how those materials were cataloged and used. I believe that such observations will allow future scholars to more accurately contextualize a historic tape music program, like the EMS. It was also my goal to recognize and document those historic materials that presented an immediate preservation risk.
During the 1950s and throughout much of the 1960s, electroacoustic studios located within the United States were almost exclusively associated with universities. These studios and universities eventually became repositories for magnetic tape recordings. Unfortunately, as time passed, age-induced physical deterioration of these magnetic materials endangered the integrity of those recordings. As the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (2015) notes, magnetic tape is highly susceptible to various deterioration issues even if stored in the most ideal conditions. Haus and Pelegrin Pajuelo (2001) argue, based on their own work in electroacoustic tape archives, that many old electroacoustic recordings are now at risk due to issues of age-based deterioration. Furthermore, these risks are often unrecognized or unaddressed by archivists due to the large volume of recordings that are held in many electroacoustic archives (see also Teruggi 2001; Zattra, Poli and Vidolin 2001; Polferman, Sheppard and Dearden 2006). The risk associated with these materials is due to the deterioration of the chemical composition of the magnetizable coating on the tape and the weakening integrity of the plastic film that the coating is placed upon. These deterioration issues are exacerbated in non-ideal environmental conditions. Unfortunately, in even the most ideal environmental conditions, all magnetic tape based recordings will eventually fail (see Association for Recorded Sound Collections 2015). Therefore, the only real preservation strategy is to try to prolong the life of the master tape through proper care while also creating copies of that recording for future use. Unfortunately, issues of preservation in electroacoustic studios may be compounded when a repository also stores original tape loops or spliced performance tape segments. Splicing tape can lose its ability to bind the tape segments together requiring extra time and specialized labor to repair.
The University of Illinois Experimental Music Studio
The University of Illinois Experimental Music Studio (EMS) was created in 1958 by composer Lejaren Hiller who served as its Director until 1968. The period from 1968-1975 saw several different Directors. In 1976, Scott Wyatt was hired and would serve as Director of the EMS for forty years. Scott Wyatt was succeeded by Dr. Eli Fieldsteel in 2016.
In the ensuing decades following the inception of the EMS, many notable composers participated within the program, either as students or faculty. Such composers included: Herbert Brun, Kenneth Gaburo, Ben Johnston, Salvatore Martirano, David Rosenboom, and many more. From its inception, the EMS generated commercial releases both through individuals associated with the department or as a university department as a whole.
Aside from musical compositions, the EMS was also active in creating and utilizing unique electronic instruments and technology, often in association with University of Illinois engineers and computer scientists. For example, Lejaren Hiller’s Illiac Suite, written in 1956, utilized a newly developed computer at the University of Illinois, the ILLIAC. The Illiac Suite is often credited as being the first piece of computer music (Chadabe, 1997; pp. 273-274). Additionally, James Beauchamp’s Harmonic Tone Generator, developed in 1964, was one of the earliest voltage controlled synthesizers. In 1969, Salvatore Martirano began constructing his own personalized instrument, the Sal-Mar Construction. Built partially from the circuit boards of the ILLIAC II, the Sal-Mar Construction was one of the first musical instruments to use modern transistor– transistor logic (TTL) digital circuitry (see Chadabe, 1997).
The EMS Audio Collection
The EMS’ audio collection began to be built shortly after the inception of the program although the large majority of the collection was accumulated during the tenure of Scott Wyatt. According to my conversations with Scott, the collection was meant to be utilized for pedagogical purposes, to be played during specific live performances, as an archive of materials gifted to the EMS, and as a general repository for materials recorded within the EMS. Scott continued to grow the tape collection until digital recording technology began to replace analog tape around the mid-1990s.
Regarding the tapes that were gifted to the EMS collection, they either were given to Scott in person when that composer came to campus, were exchanged at off-campus performances and symposiums, or arrived via correspondences in the mail. The physical tape cases in the collection reveals many different studio sources (See Picture 1).
Transition in the EMS and a Transition of the EMS Collection
In 2016, Scott Wyatt retired and the new Director of the EMS, Dr. Eli Fieldsteel, came into the program. Although Scott had done an extraordinary job of growing and caring for the collection, the tape collection was no longer being utilized and the tapes were taking up a large amount of the EMS’ limited space. Additionally, many tapes were not immediately playable, as the paper tape leader needed to be replaced before playback. This could be especially time consuming as many of the tapes had leader separating all the individual compositions. Of greater concern though, were the issues regarding the deterioration of the actual magnetized tapes. Because all the tapes in this collection were decades old, there was a concern regarding how much longer those tapes would remain playable.
With these factors in mind, a decision was made between the EMS and the University of Illinois Sousa Archives and Center for American Music (SACAM) that the collection would be accessioned into the University Archives. SACAM already had a large collection of EMS materials including the unique instruments of Salvatore Martirano and James Beauchamp and the various other collections involving former EMS faculty. Therefore, accessioning the tape collection to them made sense.
I originally conceived of this project out of happenstance. I was having a conversation with a music student and he told me of the EMS’ audio collection that he had heard was stored in a closet in the Music Building. I immediately contacted the School of Music Director, Scott Wyatt, regarding preserving and documenting this collection. It turned out that Scott was retiring but gave me the name of the incoming Director. I contacted and arranged a meeting with the incoming Director, Eli Fieldsteel. After meeting several times, Dr. Fieldsteel granted me full access to the collection and the ability to serve as an advisor to him regarding what to do with the collection moving forward.
For this project, I spent seventeen weeks working with the collection. I also traded emails and met with Scott Wyatt repeatedly. The overall goal of this project was to understand and document the EMS collection. The other goals included the implementation of a long-term preservation plan for these materials while helping to preserve the institutional memory of the EMS.
To assist in processing this collection, I created a Google Form to record all the data from the tape cases as well as data regarding the physical condition of each item. This list was later exported in a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet (see supplemental materials). I also recorded information regarding the ephemera found in the tape boxes, the location of materials, and my own general notes. After this collection was moved to SACAM, I further assisted in the documentation of materials and the creation of the finding aid for this collection.
Although this study is primarily interested in the tape collection, I also cataloged other materials including ephemera, musical scores, digital audio tapes, LPs, videocassettes, and optical discs. That said, the overwhelming majority of items in the collection were magnetic tape recordings.
Arrangement of Collection
The EMS tape collection was located in a ten foot by six foot temperature controlled storage closet that also shared space with other EMS materials (such as cables, boxes, cleaning supplies, posters and ephemera, and other assorted odd and ends). Within that closet space were four metal shelves that were six feet high by about thirty-four inches long. Each shelve contains six compartments (see Picture 2). Three of those shelves were located along the left side of the closet space (if looking toward the far wall). One shelve was on the far end of the closet. All of the tapes were situated on three of those shelves. The tape collection took up about twenty-four linear feet of space once they were boxed up for the move.
Written on the spine of about 60% of the 457 overall tapes is a catalog number and a tape name (see Picture 3). For the cataloging classification system, all numbers start with “5” and are followed by three additional numbers (E.g. 5001, 5002, etc.). All of the cataloged materials were in 10” tape boxes (mostly Scotch 206 or Scotch 207 tape boxes). The tape brand listed on the box is not representative of the tape brand that was used, as Scott Wyatt verified.
Written on the back of the tape boxes is information about the recording (see Picture 4). This descriptive content is often typed out but occasionally it is written by hand. The tapes with catalog numbers were easily accessible on the shelf and were organized from left to right by number (small to large).
An index-card catalog system was created and utilized by Scott Wyatt. Those index cards contain composition, composer, and playback information. These catalog cards were stored in a wooden box which I returned to Scott Wyatt (see Picture 5). Three manila folders within the archive contained a typed list of the recordings in the EMS archive with the corresponding cataloging schema. These lists were made in the late 1970s according to Scott. These records contained both typed and hand written entries for the collection. These folders, as well as the scans of them that I created, were given to the University of Illinois Sousa Archives and Center for American Music upon accession.